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Mining the Cognitive Surplus 220

Posted by kdawson
from the looking-for-the-mouse dept.
Clay Shirky has been giving talks on his book Here Comes Everybody — his "masterpiece," per Cory Doctorow — and BoingBoing picks up one of them, from the Web 2.0 conference. Shirky has come up with a quantification of the attention that TV has been absorbing for more than half a century. Shirky defines as a unit of attention "the Wikipedia": 100 million person-hours of thought. As a society we have been burning 2,000 Wikipedias per year watching mostly sitcoms. We're stopping now. Here's a video of another information-dense Shirky talk, this one at Harvard.
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Mining the Cognitive Surplus

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  • Fascinating (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 26199 (577806) * on Sunday April 27, 2008 @02:31PM (#23215850) Homepage

    I was going to make a comment about such statistics being next to meaningless. ("What if nobody watched TV" is similar to "what if we didn't have any wars" or "what if all religions suddenly settled their differences"). Then I RTFA. And I'm not entirely convinced but I really hope he's right.

    He making a compelling case for the end of the TV era. Can you feel it coming? Just think what it might mean...

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The age of mediocrity. The irony is that TV makers brought it onto themselves by constantly lowering standards. The overall productivity of millions of people might topple the productivity of a couple thousand professionals, but it comes at the cost of having to deal with mediocre performance in order to not turn off contributors. If something good comes of it, I would like it to be that professionals realize that their only chance is quality, not finding ever cheaper ways to produce filler.
      • Re:Fascinating (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Original Replica (908688) on Sunday April 27, 2008 @03:51PM (#23216512) Journal
        The irony is that TV makers brought it onto themselves by constantly lowering standards.

        I don't think that's true. Compare a season of "Heroes" to a season of "A-Team" or "Night Rider". Look at the quality progression of "Star Trek" "Star Trek:the Next Generation" "Battlestar Galactica". I think television quality has migrated towards the extremes, there is some television that is very good, and some that makes Charlie the Unicorn [youtube.com] look brilliant. I'm hoping that the rise of YouTube is going to be the end of reality TV.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by sir fer (1232128)
          Improving the quality of TV is like improving the quality of shit...at the end of the day it's still shit.
          • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

            by vlad30 (44644)

            Improving the quality of TV is like improving the quality of shit...at the end of the day it's still shit.
            yes but Good Shit (TM) will make things grow. Bad Shit (TM) just poisons the earth and eventually kills everything it touches
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by cbreaker (561297)
            Yea.. and you don't own a TV, right? You're so trendy and hip that I think I'm going to puke.

            And don't even try to tell me that things like YouTube make TV unnecessary, because if you think TV is shit, it's much, much worse on YouTube. I think I drop an IQ point every time I hit that site.
        • by cbreaker (561297)
          I agree completely. TV has gone through a lot of changes, and I think that some of the best changes have been in the last six or seven years.

          Prime Time shows, many of them at least, are now heavily serialized. Gone are the glory days of the sitcom; and thank goodness. Sitcoms are okay in small doses (ie Seinfeld) but they are becoming increasingly rare.

          If you look at television as a whole, considering all 24 hours of service times all of the channels, then yea, there's usually nothing good on TV. B
      • Unlike that shitty stuff on television, we produce only the finest art on youtube.com.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by LaskoVortex (1153471)

      And I'm not entirely convinced but I really hope he's right.

      He's right and his proof was made before he wrote the article, evidenced by the existence of Wikipedia itself. For this one project alone, 1/10,000 of the cognitive surplus of one year has already been harvested.

      He['s] making a compelling case for the end of the TV era.

      One can only hope. The TV is last century technology. It brought information into the collective consciousness. Computers and the internet will likely prove to be as powerful this century.

      His major point is that TV is a 1-way collective technology while computers are a 2-way collective techno

      • Re:Fascinating (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 27, 2008 @04:19PM (#23216732)

        He's right and his proof was made before he wrote the article, evidenced by the existence of Wikipedia itself. For this one project alone, 1/10,000 of the cognitive surplus of one year has already been harvested.
        Right, because all of the mental effort that went into creating Wikipedia was taken from the mental effort that was wasted by watching TV, and not from anything else.

        Seriously, do you even know what the word "proof" means? Your statement isn't based on any kind of fact so it may not even be true itself, much less prove anything else.

        The article is based on two whopping unfounded assumptions:

        - That this cognitive surplus even exists. It's possible that people simply have a finite amount of thought available per unit time and that this thought is already being completely expended. The fact that people in the past had much less free time is meaningless; they also had much less requirement for thought in their work and in their lives. Maybe a consequence of the move from mindless drones to modern thought-workers is that there isn't much thought left to be used in the free time created.

        - That mental effort is interchangeable. This should be obviously false, not just unproven. It should be clear to anyone who has interacted with humans that when any kind of goal is at stake, some people's brains are vastly more effective at reaching it than others. If your goal is some physics problem, an hour of Albert Einstein's brain is probably worth more than the entire lifetime of that girl who made me a sandwich at the deli today. You can't say that there are X person-hours being wasted in front of the TV which could do awesome things if they were put to use elsewhere. These are not CPU cycles, you can't just load new software and go.

        Now, overall I think that the guy's talk has a good point and tells a lot of truth. But it goes too far when talking about mental effort as if it were fungible, and there's no way that any of his conclusions are proven at all, much less by the mere existence of Wikipedia.
        • It's possible that people simply have a finite amount of thought available per unit time

          You are proof of this!

        • Re:Fascinating (Score:3, Insightful)

          by globaljustin (574257)

          The article is based on two whopping unfounded assumptions:
          - That this cognitive surplus even exists. It's possible that people simply have a finite amount of thought available per unit time and that this thought is already being completely expended.

          I agree and I'd go further to say that any human thought that does not lead to productive action is useless in the context of making some point about any 'cognitive surplus' lost to TV viewing.

          What's the difference if a construction worker spends his free

          • The problem is Shirky didn't take a few things into account:

            Don't forget the problem of "50% of the people are below average" I don't mean that as any kind of insult, just an observation of reality. When you are talking about global scale projects like Wikipedia, the contributions that make it a valuable resource are the ones that come from people with expertise. That severely limits the number of people who can contribute meaningfully, a sort of self enforcing version of the adage "20% of the people d
            • Don't forget the problem of "50% of the people are below average" I don't mean that as any kind of insult, just an observation of reality.

              Yes, but the number of people who can make a contribution of any value depends on the tightness of that distribution. If it is possible to generate a measurement of "potential to contribute", I suspect the distribution of it would be fairly tight, especially if you measure intelligence using the greatest possible parameter space. For instance, what might be the metric to determine how greatly someone can contribute to the site colourlovers.com [colourlovers.com]? How does one weight this metric with others, such as mathemat

            • by node 3 (115640)
              Just because those "sub-fiftypercenters" aren't making wikipedias does not mean their contributions to society are any less valuable, nor does it take away from the point that time spent watching TV is time spent *not* being productive.
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by Anguirel (58085)
                I disagree with the premise that all time spent watching TV is not productive. Even when watching shows which are not directly educational, it is time spent generating a common framework for discussion and discourse, it enables consideration of various hypothetical situations, and enhances the ability of people to consider various possibilities. Unless you consider all art appreciation and cultural achievement, along with most of philosophy, to be not productive in any sense.

                You could as easily say "time
            • That doesn't mean that everyone else can't contribute to society in a better way than watching TV but that the internet doesn't really open up a new world of possiblites

              I think I see your point. I wonder how the gradual merging of audio/visual media (we know as cable and broadcast TV) with the internet will do for the 50% you speak of? One assumes that they will just access the same alpha state-inducing 'content' via the web as they do on traditional TV.

              I guess if we take your statement further, ther

        • by hxnwix (652290)

          It's possible that people simply have a finite amount of thought available per unit time and that this thought is already being completely expended

          Have you ever been compelled to work when you would rather have been watching TV? Did the additional work retroactively destroy earlier work?

          More to the point, surely the amount of time you engage in non-passive activities varies over both short and long term intervals. For example, many watch more TV in the summer than during the school year. Does the ability to toil diminish in the summer? You could argue that students would burn out without a multiple month vacation - but summer break doesn't exist

        • Seriously, do you even know what the word "proof" means?

          From American Heritage: evidence or argument helping to establish a fact or truth of a statement.

          My reference to the existence of wikipedia, though not fulfilling the rigorous mathematical definition of "proof" you learned in geometry class, does fulfill the first definition in American Heritage as I have used it (note the word "argument" in the AH definition). Perhaps you should look up words in the dictionary before you attack people for using them improperly. Of course a better policy would be to res

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by ceoyoyo (59147)
          I agree with you he has an interesting point, but he's built it up in the wrong direction. People are not machines. You can't just work them all the time. They either die earlier, work less effectively or go insane.

          TV lets you switch gears from what you did all day. I don't know anybody who works all day in an office who wants to come home and... do more office stuff. You need to switch gears. People used to work in the field or factory all day, then come home and read. Now that we read all day, we w
        • by node 3 (115640)

          It's possible that people simply have a finite amount of thought available per unit time and that this thought is already being completely expended.

          No, that's not possible at all, aside from the pedantic (and useless) sense that "even one in a trillion trillion trillion means it's *possible*".

          That mental effort is interchangeable.

          That's not what he's saying at all. He's not saying that there would be X more wikipedias, or anything else *specific*, just that there would be X more *somethings* of roughly a "wikipedia amount of effort".

          Now, overall I think that the guy's talk has a good point and tells a lot of truth. But it goes too far when talking about mental effort as if it were fungible, and there's no way that any of his conclusions are proven at all, much less by the mere existence of Wikipedia.

          Wikipedia is just an example. The point is, though, that time spent watching television is pretty much universally unproductive.

          So if you replace the time s

          • by Moraelin (679338)
            TFA is still full of it, IMHO.

            1. As others already pointed out, you _can't_ do mental work for 16 hours a day and still be top-productivity. And the GP's post isn't just "possible", it's actually proven.

            I remember at least one study where some students were asked to solve some complicated maths problems. Some were told to take a break, get a good night's sleep, etc. Some were told to forge ahead, keep at it all day, and generally do the kind of 16 hours a day mental work that TFA implicitly assumes possible
      • by cbreaker (561297)
        Again, you're making the assumption that people WANT to always be involved in an interactive form of communication all the time.

        The Internet is obviously important, and computers are already at least as "powerful" as a medium for communication.

        I just don't see why both can't continue to co-exist. At the end of the day, I want to relax, sit comfortably on the couch, and watch some TV before I go to bed. I don't want to crouch in front of a computer screen all the time, and I don't want an interactive exp
    • Re:Fascinating (Score:4, Insightful)

      by kestasjk (933987) on Sunday April 27, 2008 @03:28PM (#23216330) Homepage
      I don't know anyone that still watches TV like people used to in the 90s. I haven't rtfa'd yet, but if he's saying that those hours will be put to good use now that we're not watching sitcoms I'm not so hopeful; it's not like you can't waste time on the net, that's all a lot of people (most?) use it for.
      • by kestasjk (933987)
        (Depends on your definition of "waste" though, are sitcoms a waste if you enjoy them?)
        • The key factor is: a technology is mature when you can get laid with it. Can you get laid watching Gilligan's Island? Can you get laid meeting people on the Internet?
          • Can you get laid watching Gilligan's Island?

            I suppose if it was the right girl, and she happened to have an island fetish...maybe.

            Can you get laid meeting people on the Internet?

            Well, yes, duh. But it'll be a 45-year-old FBI agent pretending to be that hawtie sweet-16 camgirl.

      • Nope.

        No more waiting (wasting!) an entire week for an episode, then as it plays sitting through 22 minutes of commercials.

        If you can't stand to be serious and must relax, then burn one day, watch 9 episodes in 7 hours, and put the next 8 weeks to your previously scheduled productive activity.
    • Re:Fascinating (Score:4, Insightful)

      by athmanb (100367) on Sunday April 27, 2008 @03:29PM (#23216340)
      He's probably right, the TV era is going away and getting replaced with the MMORPG era.

      Not that it makes any difference whether we waste our time on soap operas or getting epix though.
      • by roman_mir (125474)
        People seek entertainment. TV was the best entertainment until now, from now on something like MMORPG may as well take that role. However, there is an enormous difference between passive TV and active MMORPG (note that I don't play games, but I still understand this.) A game requires user input, some sort of a meaningful action to continue playing.

        This gives me an idea.

        Imagine a massively multi-player online environment that seems to be a game... but it is not really a game. What it actually is, is a collec
    • by Culture20 (968837)

      "What if nobody watched TV" is similar to "what if we didn't have any wars" [...] end of the TV era. Can you feel it coming? Just think what it might mean...
      The pessimist in me says that once people start having convictions and desires to do something again, we'll have a lot more war. TV ain't all bad; It's the _real_ opiate of the masses. Ever seen a Hollywood barroom brawl set in an opium den? It probably never escalated beyond two characters.
      • The pessimist in me says that once people start having convictions and desires to do something again, we'll have a lot more war.

        Perhaps if war was precipitated by populations having convictions and desires that ran contrary to other (usually neighboring) countries.

        More often than not however, modern wars have been carefully and deliberately started as a strategic tool by governments independent of their citizens' wishes, using willing arms dealers that stand to make a lot of money out of the conflict (and p
  • Nope. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ScentCone (795499) on Sunday April 27, 2008 @02:33PM (#23215872)
    I don't think that stopping the practice of watching long hours of re-ran Seinfeld episodes, so that you can spend even more hours writing and following links to various discussions and trivia about Seinfeld episodes and looking for places to download bootlegs of the same is an indication that, finally, all of that brainpower is getting put back to productive use.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Sound point, but his argument is a little more subtle. Not all that brainpower will be put to constructive use, at least not in the next generation or two. But his order-of-magnitude calculations illustrate that rerouting just a tiny fraction of that brainpower makes for large social changes.
  • Double-standards? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Sunday April 27, 2008 @02:33PM (#23215874) Homepage
    If, in defending the free exchange of media, we note that each "pirated" copy does not necessarily equal a lost sale, why should we think watching sitcoms necessarily equals lost useful effort?
    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      That's kind of what I thought. Just because you're not watching TV, doesn't mean you will be doing something productive. Maybe you would be reading a book instead. Is that really any more productive? Sure you could spend all that free time writing open source software, or composing symphonies, But people need some downtime. Some time to just sit and and relax, without trying to get anything accomplished.
      • Re:Double-standards? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by MrAndrews (456547) * <<ac.9881> <ta> <mcm>> on Sunday April 27, 2008 @04:02PM (#23216586) Homepage
        While I'd agree with you that there needs to be some downtime to help refresh one's brainpower, I think the question of "how much downtime" is the key.

        I used to watch 2 hours of TV a night (which I believe is below the American average), and felt that after a hard day of work, it was nice to relax and just absorb for a while. But after recently giving up caffeine, I decided to see how many of my other "normal" activities were based on addiction too. So I gave up an hour of TV and tried to put it towards other uses (in this case, re-doing my office).

        The first week was fine, the second week was hell, but by the end of the first month, I was actually adapted to not watching more than an hour every day. I had moved past working on my office, and was writing books again, debugging old code I hadn't touched in months. I had been ignoring productivity to indulge in something I could SWORN was essential to my mental stability.

        I'm actually torn about this situation, because I make my living producing entertainment products that I hope people will mindlessly consume... but if we actually DO move beyond the old-fashioned paradigm, the hours I produce may have a harder time fitting into the "free time" the rest of the world has.

        Someone should put some of their newly-acquired brainspace into finding a way to make TV more socially-and-interactively useful, so I don't have to worry so much.
        • by couchslug (175151) on Sunday April 27, 2008 @05:33PM (#23217252)
          "I'm actually torn about this situation, because I make my living producing entertainment products that I hope people will mindlessly consume"

          Why be torn? There will NEVER be a shortage of people ready to gobble mindless entertainment. What you do as a self-aware person doesn't mean fuck all to the drones, so make stuff that makes money for you and then enjoy the
          power money gives you. You cannot (no one can) ensmarten the drones. Leave them to their American Idol and other comforting bullshit. They don't care what you want.

          "Someone should put some of their newly-acquired brainspace into finding a way to make TV more socially-and-interactively useful, so I don't have to worry so much."

          They did. It's called a computer.
        • I'm actually torn about this situation, because I make my living producing entertainment products that I hope people will mindlessly consume... but if we actually DO move beyond the old-fashioned paradigm, the hours I produce may have a harder time fitting into the "free time" the rest of the world has.

          So how can you help make the entertainment products you create the kind of products that a selective consumer would choose to put in their one hour of $MINDLESS_ENTERTAINMENT a day? What distinguishes the sho
      • I will gladly put support behind this trade. "Productive" doesn't need to be creating a second job for yourself ... only that some kind of value is forming.

        I think the trick is that TV is guaged at a level of "Here I am with the remote... is there *something* worth staying here for, or is *all* of it so bad I have to shut it off?"

        I am a very enthusiastic reader, and 95% of my books are better chosen with a theme than TV's forced selection.

        Also, I find that books create their own fatigue indicator. If I'm ti
        • I think the trick is that TV is guaged at a level of "Here I am with the remote... is there *something* worth staying here for, or is *all* of it so bad I have to shut it off?"

          I have to agree. To me, sitting in front of the TV for hours on end is exactly the same as throwing some random TV-programmer schmuck the keys to my brain and saying "Here, you drive for a while". No thanks.

          A couple of years ago I decided to selectively watch only the TV programs that *really* engage my attention. Shows that I feel li
    • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Sunday April 27, 2008 @03:20PM (#23216250) Homepage Journal
      The cognitive surplus may be low-grade ore, but a gold mine is economical even if there's only one ounce of gold per ton.
    • Especially since (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Sycraft-fu (314770)
      Sometimes you need mental downtime, just like physical downtime. If you've just finished running a marathon, you aren't really going to want to go shovel your driveway right afterwards, nor are you likely to be effective if you do. Your body is worn out and needs to relax. Well, the same is true of the mind after hard work. Sometimes you just need to relax. There is nothing wrong with this, and in fact can make you more effective when you do go back to work.

      Then, of course, there's the problem of assuming t
  • Wow (Score:3, Funny)

    by NIckGorton (974753) * on Sunday April 27, 2008 @02:34PM (#23215880)
    Just wow.

    My hippy-social-justice-queer-tree-hugging-dirt-worshipper self just did a little dance.
  • ...but there's gotta be some "Must-See TV" that I'm missing. No time for boring ol' reading, is there?

    Actually, I haven't had TV since January, and other than the Science Channel, I don't really miss it.
    • Yeah, well I am not even certain what counts any more. Until I recently purchased one (due to the need for Wii access) I hadn't had a TV for almost a decade. But I now watch the Daily Show religiously on my laptop. Does that count as watching TV?
      • by Burz (138833)
        Daily Show is part of TV's problem. Part of me would just love to revel in all of the neocon-ridiculing, hipper-than-thou shtick; its a dangerous temptation.

        Dangerous because A) it is 97% an expression of negativity... they tear-down all the right things but their ability to inform about positive trends and potentials is close to zero; and B) its still too much of a passive experience, where I am supposed to sit through stuff I already know because of the cute faces/personalities on display.

        On the whole, I
    • Try the UC Berkley webcasts or Google tech talks, way more information dense than Science Channel.
    • by ceoyoyo (59147)
      How did you manage to only get the science channel? I unfortunately had to move while I was writing my thesis and didn't get around to getting the cable hooked up for a month or so. I pretty much memorized Blue Planet and Planet Earth during that month.
  • Maybe, maybe not (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AmazingRuss (555076) on Sunday April 27, 2008 @02:45PM (#23215978)
    I've been without broadcast TV for 15 years or so, and I find plenty of other trivia to waste my time on. Lacking the daily homogenizing input, I am kind of awkward in conversation with strangers or casual acquaintances. I don't know any of the little catch phrases from the sitcoms, or what any of the sports teams are doing. It would do my social life a lot of good if I watched TV, but I just can't hack it.

    I also think that it's a good thing a lot of these folks have the TV to watch. It gives them something to talk about, and keeps them inside, out of trouble. I don't think the infinite number of monkeys technique really applies to advancing human thought. If they're captivated by sitcoms, it's doubtful they are going to have much to contribute.

    • by 26199 (577806) *

      (How the heck did you get modded offtopic?)

      I think part of his argument is that new things are coming along that are fundamentally different from TV ... even if they appeal at the same level of sophistication.

      The difference being that they're interactive; and, however slowly, people might start to build something.

      Eh. Who knows?

      • by Xelios (822510)
        "The difference being that they're interactive; and, however slowly, people might start to build something."

        If the quality of the most popular TV shows right now is any indication...the thought of that something scares the shit out of me.
    • "I don't know any of the little catch phrases from the sitcoms..."

      So, get people to explain them to you. People love talking about their favorite shows. This is exactly what I do. I've been without TV since 1991 and I've never really felt out of the loop. If all your conversations must revolve around TV then that's a little limiting in itself. Reading a few blogs and news web sites is more than enough to keep you in the running with pop culture.

      Many will defend various programs on TV and they may
      • You're correct...I should just ask, but to be honest, the only thing worse than having to watch some sitcom is having to sit through somebody breathlessly recounting it.

    • by andphi (899406)
      (In the manner of a slave on a Southern plantation right before the beginning of the American Civil War) Oh yes, massa. Yah ain't nuthin but right, massa. Us is too dumb and ain't got no use for readin or book-learnin'. Yah jes' go on readin' yer big fancy books an' runnin' yer great big plantation. We ain't need no freedom anyhow. We jes' go on singin' our songs and picking our fingers ta the bone on this here cotton. We jes' simple. We jes' dumb. We nuthin' but slaves. You right, massa. You ain't never wr
      • by AmazingRuss (555076) on Sunday April 27, 2008 @05:26PM (#23217198)
        You get out there and inspire the Muggles, and see where it gets you. Trying to push the back end of the bell curve into the front is very rarely a rewarding endeavor. As far as I'm concerned, the only way to deal with them is to be polite and get away as soon as possible...which is how I expect them to treat me too, given my ignorance of things that interest them.

        I have an endless store of engineering trivia, others have an endless supply of pop culture trivia. It's not good, bad, or otherwise.
        • I have an endless store of engineering trivia, others have an endless supply of pop culture trivia. It's not good, bad, or otherwise.
          Which of you would be more likely to end up on the B-Ark [wikipedia.org]?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by anagama (611277)
      Same here -- I gave up TV around 1993. I know exactly what you mean about being disconnected from pop culture but it hasn't really bothered me. After a few months without TV, I didn't miss it all because I had time to engage in hobbies and other things that interested me.

      Unfortunately, I've discovered a new problem recently. I find my time dwindling again because in the last couple years, I've been spending way too much time online. While pre-93 I might surf channels all day hoping something good would
      • I have that problem too, periodically. I null route my favorite time wasting sites when it gets bad.
  • Interesting Analysis (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rm999 (775449) on Sunday April 27, 2008 @03:03PM (#23216120)
    This is an interesting analysis of the distribution of users who contribute online:
    http://www.tiara.org/blog/?p=272 [tiara.org]

    I think the take-home message is that most people don't want to contribute much. The reason is obvious to me - after 40+ hours of working in a week, most people I know want to relax and not think much; passively watching TV is the perfect outlet.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Wait until they discover that, as the proverb says, "a change of work is the best rest".
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by 1 a bee (817783)
      He argues in the article even a 1% drop of TV viewing hours redirected to collaborative output (multiplayer online games, forum discussions, such as this one, all count as *output*) can have transformative societal effects (about 1000 wikipedias / yr, if I read that correctly). So even a small shift away from pure couch potato consumption, to collaborative production (remember the online multiplayer game isn't worth a damn without the other players), he claims, represents a huge shift in societal output.
    • You can't jump from "most visitors don't contribute to Wikipedia" to "most people don't contribute online". That's like arguing that most people don't have jobs because most of them don't work for Microsoft. It's absurd. Analysis of contribution rates at any given site tell us nothing at all about whether most people participate somewhere online or whether they are passive consumers. Nothing.

      To make the claims you're making, you need to look at the overall behavior of individual people across all the si
  • by xtal (49134) on Sunday April 27, 2008 @03:04PM (#23216128)
    I noticed a few months ago, I don't watch TV anymore. I'll buy DVDs and sit down and watch them, but there is too much interesting stuff going on now, and too many other things to do to sit there on the couch. Most of the programs are utterly asinine, and the good nuggets are all available through other media (DVD) now.

    The most interesting thing is this is something that just sort of happened.. not something I set out to do. I think my cat might spend more time in front of the TV than I do.
    • Most of the programs are utterly asinine, and the good nuggets are all available through other media (DVD) now.

      Don't forget Bit Torrent. Every TV show on the air is available that way now. The problem is, even when the stuff is available for free I don't have much interest.

      I've found pretty much the same thing happening to me. We have a big screen TV, but we really only use it for watching movies (Netflix, as it happens.) Broadcast TV programming is, by and large, worthless and what good stuff there i
  • by Reader X (906979) <readerx@nospAM.gmail.com> on Sunday April 27, 2008 @03:04PM (#23216132)
    Two things about Clay Shirky's critique of TV:

    1. He's right.
    2. He is pissing in the wind.

    The Internet, and in particular Web 2.0 and the interactive/collaborative opportunities it creates, have pretty much already been coopted into the trivialization of thought and discourse. For every Wikipedia article there are hundreds of lame blog posts on boneheaded topics (including, for some of you, this one!). From an epistomological perspective, the Internet/television convergence is only accelerated by Web 2.0 technology, because the medium conditions us to behave trivially, a sizable fraction of people like it that way, and the economics of the medium tend to reinforce and extend that use.

    The interested reader may also want to check out Neil Postmans's magnum opus [amazon.com] on the death blow television has administered to our public discourse, written some twenty years ago.

    • Postman has a tendency towards technological determinism. It is not necessarily fruitful to treat the Internet as a single medium, and it's certainly not a medium whose social significance has stabilized yet. At this point, the convergence with TV that you talk about is only one possible outcome - one that must be vigorously resisted.

      That said, you are right to focus on the effects online activity have on people, rather than the relative value of the content they produce. Participation online can help

  • Post Inducer (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Al Mutasim (831844) * on Sunday April 27, 2008 @03:27PM (#23216314)
    Doesn't that essay make you want to post comments to Slashdot, rather than just read? It does me.
    • Re:Post Inducer (Score:5, Interesting)

      by LaskoVortex (1153471) on Sunday April 27, 2008 @06:20PM (#23217578)

      I was thinking of posting anonymously because everyone agreeing with TFA is getting systematically modded down. But I'm going to stick my neck out on this one.

      I think many people on this forum hope that they are the only ones who know how to type or make any sort of meaningful contribution on line. This is painful arrogance. I see a lot of: (1) "the statistics are meaningless" and (2) "most people are stupid and can contribute nothing" comments here. It gets redundant watching people who measure their IQ as a function inverse of their slashdot id.

      The thing that escape those with this arrogance, though, is that everyone is able to contribute online. Every thought that comes out of people is a contribution to the collective consciousness, even if you make redundant groupthink posts on slashdot. Although a handful of websites (e.g. slashdot) pioneered online collaborative thought, they will not forever remain the only legitimate sources of such. For example, how many people have solved a programming or computer administration problem from a poorly written post by someone who "knew less" than themselves? I suspect many, although it may be tough for these individuals to admit.

  • good missed points (Score:5, Interesting)

    by opencity (582224) on Sunday April 27, 2008 @03:31PM (#23216352) Homepage
    Jerry Mander's book [wikipedia.org] from the 70s made a crucial distinction between active and passive media. The above slashdot comments seem limited to wikipedia bashing or a splitting of web 2.0 hairs re:2008. That is, the percentage that are coherent, which is low by the usually high standards of non technical commentary on this site ... cough ...

    This reminded me of seeing Esther Dyson and some pundits on Charley Rose a couple of years ago. They all laughed when Dyson said: "I can't tell you what web 2.0 means". Web 2.04 (or wherever we're at) means everyone can be Esther Dyson, everyone can be Charley Rose. Not everyone can be Tom Friedman as it takes years to acquire the ego involved in that much stupidity. Now is everyone going to be Charley Rose? No. Will there still be old school one way media? Yes, at least for a long time.

    Mander's point is that TV is passive and active participation works the brain muscles more than then passive staring at the screen. The brain is a muscle, use it or lose it. As someone who quit TV, not unlike drugs, in my teen years I've long argued that TV was the reason for the collapse of literacy in the US. Will the wide open web cure that? Probably not, we shall see, but any change is good. American pop culture, mainstream corporate entertainment, now resembles a piece of chewing gum so worked over there is no flavor left (see: pop music). Are endless sectarian/technical blog exchanges entertaining? YMMV, but compared to what's on TV and the radio they at least measure up.
  • Tried it already (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 77Punker (673758) <spencr04@highpoin[ ]du ['t.e' in gap]> on Sunday April 27, 2008 @04:05PM (#23216614)
    I'm about to graduate from college and at the end of this semester, I realized I had a ton of math homework that I needed to do in order to pass. Why was this the case? I'm a smart guy so it's really not very difficult for me, and it's not just busywork.

    I had been wasting time playing video games. I decided about 3 weeks ago that I wasn't going to spend my time doing things that have no outcome and only serve as time sinks: no video games, no pot smoking, no TV watching(unless it's informative). Exceptions (like social events) do exist, but I've stuck to it.

    Since then, I put time into my senior seminar and it ended up kicking ass, done a whole semester's worth of math in about 4 straight days, greatly increased my guitar playing ability, learned to meditate, and learned a new programming language. I've also taken care of loads of smaller things I may have just ignored and come closer to some friends and family. Most of this great success is due to the fact that I've eliminated my biggest time sink (video games). I imagine I'll also have more money, since video games are expensive and I'm selling my X360.

    These changes have allowed me to come closer to my full potential, and I don't regret it one bit. For me, video games took hours (years?) of time that I'll never get back, but at least I'm young enough that it's not too late. I feel like I just woke up from a coma.

    I strongly encourage everyone to examine his time-sinking habits and eliminate them; it may change your life!
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      #1 Time sink: Slashdot.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I strongly encourage everyone to examine his time-sinking habits and eliminate them; it may change your life!
      Are you saying that I have to give up slashdot? 'Cause that's not going to happen.
    • by antifoidulus (807088) on Sunday April 27, 2008 @05:21PM (#23217162) Homepage Journal
      The key isn't to get rid of it entirely, that is just going from one extreme to another. If you have to worry about being productive all the time you are just going to fizzle out more often then not. The key of course is moderation. Sometimes I find slacking off helps when I am at a standstill on a difficult problem. Just getting my mind off of it seems to allow it to wander and usually I will wind up figuring out the critical step while my nose isn't buried in a book.

      You can also find more productive ways of slacking off, if that makes any sense. For instance, my guilty vice is South Park, so I loaded up the latest episode today and watched it while I was on an elliptical machine in the gym(with a set of wireless headphones). I was able to watch the episode and workout at the same time.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by 77Punker (673758)
        My standard for productive things here is pretty liberal; smoking a joint and playing guitar for three hours can count as productive because I'm getting better at something that exists in real life. Also, maybe I could play with my dog or ride my bike. I guess the point of my original post was that playing video games by myself usually doesn't do anything to make me a better person or improve my life or the world around me. All that happens is that I lose valuable time inside a world that doesn't exist. I'm
    • As another university student I do have to add a small caveat:

      Burnout sucks.... and if you're "working" for 12+ Hours a day, it can very easily happen.

      If I get back from work at 9PM, it's fairly therapeutic to relax and unwind by sitting down and watching an hour or so of TV. Similarly, gathering a few friends every week to watch Lost (or whatever other serial happens to be fashionable at the moment) is a great excuse to socialize.

      Interestingly, I lived above the arctic circle last summer, and found that t
    • by bendodge (998616)

      I strongly encourage everyone to examine his time-sinking habits and eliminate them; it may change your life!
      What? Y-you mean, no more Slashdot??
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Eil (82413)
      I was in the exact same place as you and came to the same exact conclusions. Throughout my teen years I was a video game fiend. Not just casual gaming mind you, but the long RPGs that take 50+ hours to beat even if you're in a hurry. Video games were literally my entire life. I didn't have many friends, I didn't date, I didn't even get the chance to experiment with alcohol and drugs with my peers. I just played shitloads of games. When I wasn't playing them, I was reading about them. When I wasn't reading a
    • by gatzke (2977)

      If I could just get rid of slashdot...

      Too bad there is no option in my preferences page to block myself from logging in? I have tried putting 127.0.0.1 in my etc/hosts but I eventually realized slashdot will resolve anything, asdf.slashdot.org still works!
  • It's a stupid idea and an even stupider name.

    When he shows a cause-effect relationship between pretty much ANYTHING and his new "unit", or anything useful that is in reality easily calculable using this unit, I might start listening.
  • Seeking out the half dozen or so people whose views are well thought out enough to be worth listening to. In my humble and profoundly uninformed opinion, that is.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    - Bertrand Russell
  • I'm not sure what the term means, but I'm fairly sure I have a lot of it.
  • A Modern Problem (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Aceticon (140883) on Monday April 28, 2008 @05:51AM (#23221396)
    There seems to be a widespread assumption in modern western societies that free time = wasted time.

    Somehow there's an expectation that people should use every waking moment to do something "productive". The best example of this trend are Blackberries and how they so often are used to extend one's working hours to to every single free moment we had left.

    Especially in Anglo-Saxon societies, people are expected to work continuously, eat at their desks,have no breaks and take work home with them - it's nuts: half the mid-level decision makers seem to be in a constant state of overstressed exhaustion, so no wonder overall corporate productivity is low, wrong decisions are common and a state of barely contained chaos is the rule. Nobody is thinking of the big picture - they're all keeping up with the flow of data (95% worthless chaff) and running around putting out fires.

    And now this article ...

    This is totally against the way the brain works - people absolutely need some sort of mental "decompression" time. Passive consumption of intellectually-undemanding TV entertainment is a form of relaxation and release from everyday stress.

    Television might be crap, but it serves a purpose - entertainment without requiring any effort: call it chewing-gum for the brain.

"The vast majority of successful major crimes against property are perpetrated by individuals abusing positions of trust." -- Lawrence Dalzell

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